One of the best-kept secrets among women over 50 is not so secret any more, thanks to a study published last week that shows eating disorders and body-image problems aren’t uncommon among that demographic.
There’s been lots of concern over the years about young women’s eating disorders. But a disturbing picture of older women’s bingeing, purging and using extreme measures such as diet drugs, diuretics, laxatives and excessive exercise to promote weight loss is starting to emerge.
The new study, conducted through the Eating Disorders Program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and published June 21 in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, was based on an online survey of 1,849 women age 50 or older. Their average age was 59, and about 92 percent of respondents were white.
Only 42 percent of the women were of normal weight, according guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among the others, 29 percent were overweight and 27 percent obese. (Two percent were underweight.)
Fully two-thirds of the women reported being unhappy with their appearance. More than one-third — 36 percent — said they’d spent at least half of their past five years dieting. Forty percent said they weighed themselves more than once a week, and — ugh, this sounds familiar — 41 percent reported checking their body daily through such measures as pinching their belly fat or noting whether their thighs rubbed together. And almost 80 percent said their weight and shape was either moderately important to or the most important factor influencing their self-perception.
Almost 8 percent of the women reported having purged — without having engaged in binge eating — in the last five years; 3.5 percent reported they had engaged in binge eating in the past month. Diet-pill use was reported by 7.5 percent of the women; 7 percent said they’d exercised excessively to lose weight, 2.5 percent had used diuretics and 2 percent had used laxatives.
What do you make of these findings? Do the numbers seem high, low or just about right?